Cursing in the Workplace

Cursing in the Workplace

Can you get fired for cursing at work?

By Alina Dizik,
July 25, 2011 9:07 a.m. EDT
Even if you do great work, cursing can have an impact on your ability to get promoted.
Even if you do great work, cursing can have an impact on your ability to get promoted.

( — If you’re cursing at work, be careful. While it’s commonplace to curse once in a while and may even help you build a bond with co-workers, there’s a fine line to when and how you curse.

“We are being judged constantly by our co-workers for how we do our work and how we interact with them,” says etiquette expert Cynthia Lett. “Cursing is an aggressive and hostile way of expressing oneself.”

Companies where employees are constantly in front of customers are especially harsh when it comes to foul language — employees caught cursing can be in trouble. Not sure where you stand when it comes to cursing? Here’s how foul language at work can impact your career:

Reveal an unprofessional attitude

In some professions cursing is accepted and can even help you fit in to an environment, perhaps in high-pressure jobs where everyone needs to let off some steam. Constantly using foul language, however, can make it difficult to fit into a professional environment, says Jennifer Kahnweiler, author of “The Introverted Leader: Building on Your Quiet Strength.”

“Perceptions are important in shaping your career — you don’t want to be seen as that foul-mouthed person,” she says. Be especially careful about your language when surrounded by several co-workers at once — such as during meetings or when working in teams.

Prevent real communication

Using curse words over and over again can prevent you from truly communicating what you’re trying to say. Instead of cursing, take the time to figure out how to let your co-workers understand what you’re really thinking. Even if you’re angry or upset, take time to develop a professional communication strategy. “Cursing is an aggressive and hostile way of expressing one’s self,” Lett says.

Furthermore it can create a distance between you and the others in your department because it makes others uncomfortable. “When people are uncomfortable around someone they avoid them whenever possible,” she explains.

Hamper your image

Similar to a disheveled appearance or tardiness, foul language can impact the way you’re perceived by others in the workplace. Even if you do great work, cursing can have an impact on your ability to get promoted or get better job responsibilities.

“You need to be aware of how you present yourself to your co-workers, superiors and clients,” says Suzanne Lucas, a writer and human resources expert. “Swearing when books get dropped on your toes or the copier dies on you is one thing, peppering your daily conversation with expletives is another.”

Repercussions from human resources

Just because no one in your department comments on your use of foul language, doesn’t mean it’s going unnoticed. In some instances it can be reported to human resources with an official warning.

Sometimes it can even get you fired. “Someone who works customer facing [roles] — such as retail or sales or call centers — would be fired for swearing, as it’s not appropriate with a customer,” Lucas says.

Of course not everyone gets fired. And as you evaluate your behavior, cursing once in a while is no cause for alarm. “We all get angry and frustrated and using a curse word can be the best release available,” says Kahnweiler. “Just be aware that this language shouldn’t become your M.O. or you could be seen as lacking self control.”

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On-Air Interview with Cynthia Lett and Andi Marshall of KFWB News/Talk 980